Modern Slavery in China: Status of Chinese Worker
Posted by chinaview on June 17, 2007
Jonathan Watts in Beijing, The Guardian, UK, Saturday June 16, 2007 -
Beijing (The Guardian)- More than 450 slave workers – many of them maimed, burned and mentally scarred – have been rescued from Chinese brick factories in an investigation into illegal labour camps, it emerged yesterday.
The victims, including children as young as 14, were reportedly abducted or tricked into labouring at the kilns, where they toiled for 16 to 20 hours a day for no pay and barely enough food to live.
According to the state media, they were beaten by guards and kept from escaping by dogs. At least 13 died from overwork and abuse, including a labourer who was allegedly battered to death with a shovel.
Such cruelty appears to have been commonplace and, until this week, ignored by local governments intent on boosting economic growth at any cost.
Their plight was revealed by one of the biggest known police operations in the country’s history.
In the past week 35,000 police have inspected 7,500 kilns in the countryside of Shanxi and Henan provinces, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. They have arrested 120 suspects and freed 468 slaves, including 109 juveniles.
The results of this probe into the darkest corners of Chinese society have shocked the nation. Since the first case was revealed on June 8, newspapers and television broadcasts have been filled with images of the wounded, emaciated and traumatised slaves. Some were so badly hurt they had to be carried out on stretchers.
Their living conditions were appalling. According to local media they were locked for years in a bare room with no bed or stove, allowed out only to work in the red-hot kilns, from where they would carry heavy, burning loads of newly fired bricks on their bare backs. Many were badly scalded. Fifteen-minute meal-breaks consisted only of steamed buns and cold water.
One of the labourers, 17-year-old Zang Wenlong, told a TV station that the kiln where he worked for three months in Caosheng village in Shanxi was a “prison”. He said he had been abducted from a train station.
The huge police investigation was prompted by 400 parents of missing youths, who posted a petition on the internet last week, accusing local officials of ignoring their suspicions.
Yang Aizhi told Xinhua that she went looking for her 16-year-old son in March after hearing that he might have been forced to work at a brick factory.
In visits to dozens of kilns in Shanxi – a province famous for its coal and heavy industry – she found children still in school uniform who were pressed into hard labour.
President Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao ordered an investigation, compensation for victims and severe punishment for traffickers and jailers. The leaders rose to power on a promise to improve the conditions of those left behind by the country’s breakneck development.
But many commentators believe high-profile investigations only scratch the surface of child labour, trafficking and slavery. With no free media, independent courts or rival political parties, it is easy for local officials to conspire with factory owners to ignore labour laws. “If China really gave the media freedom, you would see stories like this appearing all the time,” said Qiao Mu, of Beijing Foreign Study University.
Internet chatrooms were buzzing with criticism of the local authorities. “My feeling is that local officials and police benefit from the brick industry and that’s why these appalling things could happen,” said one post. “The boss and local gangsters are not the only criminals. The courts should also sentence local officials who were bribed off,” said another.
- original report from The Guardian: Enslaved, burned and beaten: police free 450 from Chinese brick factories
– 400 Chinese Fathers of Child Slaves Seek Help Online, Wed Jun 13, 2007
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